Major Nominees Prove Emmy Success Relies on Across-the-Board Quality

No show is created in a vacuum, and that’s never more clear than when you look at the artisans and the programs that scored the most noms in major Creative Arts categories. That most of these shows also scored major noms in the more visible acting, writing and directing categories proves that depth counts and that the most honored programs draw on the widest collection of talent. The profiles that follow appraise aspects of these shows and the creative people whose work the Emmys have recognized with nominations.

(8 noms: Half-hour narrative program production design; comedy series casting; single-camera comedy series picture editing (x2); music composition for a series; half-hour series sound editing; half-hour series sound mixing; comedy or variety stunt coordination)
There’s a lot of drama as well as sly humor in HBO’s dark comedy about a hit man (Bill Hader) trying to get out of the murder business by getting into acting. It’s also “very reality-based,” says production designer Tyler Robinson, “so the jokes and the comedy never want to come from the production design — unlike with my last show, ‘Portlandia,’ so that’s been a bit of a challenge and learning curve for me.” Robinson aims for “a very North Hollywood feel, and if it starts to get a bit jokey, we pull it back.” Season 2 uses several returning sets, including the theater interior and lobby. “Some of that’s location, and we built the rest on a set. We also had to build Barry’s apartment this year, as he was living out of a hotel in Season 1.” For the giant fight in the nominated “ronny/lily” episode, Robinson built the entire house. —Iain Blair

(13 noms: Hourlong narrative or fantasy production design; limited series, movie or special casting; limited series or movie cinematography; period costumes; limited series or movie single-camera picture editing (x2); limited series or movie hairstyling; limited series or movie nonprosthetic makeup; limited series, movie or special prosthetic makeup; limited series, movie or special music composition; limited series, movie or special sound editing; limited series or movie sound mixing; supporting special visual effects)
Production designer Luke Hull and his team faced many challenges in re-creating the period look and locations of the infamous nuclear disaster, as director Johan Renck wanted “a sinister and eerie tone, so the overall one was combining this stylistic choice with the period and then making it consistent across our many sets in the five episodes.” The design challenge of explaining the scale of the power plant was addressed early on by 3D modeling Chernobyl, using locations in Lithuania and splicing the two together for the exteriors. “We created a back lot outside a partially built studio in Lithuania. The building was a shell and very useful as it allowed us to create the road and exterior of Reactor 4, the destroyed pump room, and then from that exterior set build into and through the interior spaces to create one composite set of the destroyed innards of the reactor building. The roof sets and the mine were also on the back lot.” —Iain Blair


(7 noms: Limited series or movie cinematography; limited series or movie single-camera picture editing; limited series or movie hairstyling; limited series or movie nonprosthetic makeup; limited series, movie or special sound editing; limited series or movie sound mixing; supporting special visual effects)
Twelve years after HBO’s über-profane salute to the lawless West rode off into the sunset, it was resurrected as a movie, and the producers wisely hired as many people who had worked on the original series as possible. “My mix partner Bill Freesh was one of them, and I was lucky to team up with him and other ‘Deadwood’ veterans and newcomers,” says re-recording mixer John Cook. The team had “many conversations about what elements of sound and music should be true to the series and where liberties could be taken to be more cinematic. We experimented with depth and dynamics and played a lot with Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek’s score. We had 17 days to mix. I pre-dubbed for seven days on Universal’s Stage A with an Avid S6 console and then joined Bill on Dub 6 for finaling. The movie was screened at the Arclight Cinerama Dome so we had to be sure our 7.1 mix would sound great in the theater before print mastering our 5.1 delivery to HBO.” —Iain Blair


(10 noms: Hourlong narrative period or fantasy production design; limited series, movie or special casting; period costumes; limited series or movie
picture editing; limited series or movie hairstyling; nonprosthetic limited series or movie makeup; limited series or movie prosthetic makeup; music direction;
music supervision; limited series or movie sound mixing)
FX’s “Fosse/Verdon” spanned just eight episodes, but its character hairdos contained decades of information. Michelle Williams’ (Gwen Verdon) personal hairstylist Nicole Bridgeford crafted four separate wigs for the actress, which traced Verdon’s emotional state over the years, from prim aspirational star to wife and then ex of Bob Fosse (played by Sam Rockwell). Department head hairstylist Christopher Fulton says he labored over each wig, and “would go back in again and cut them and put some air into them to make them feel lived-in and real.” But it was Fosse’s lack of hair that was the real challenge: The choreographer spends much of the series in a comb-over. Fulton shaved Rockwell’s head each morning, using three pieces of hair for the effect. “Not having any hair on top made the wig so much more challenging; there was literally nothing there to hide the secrets or imperfections,” he says. — Randee Dawn

Game of Thrones

(16 noms: Hourlong narrative period or fantasy production design; drama series casting; hourlong single-camera series cinematography; fantasy/sci-fi costumes; single-camera drama series picture editing (x3); single-camera series hairstyling; main title design; single-camera series nonprosthetic makeup; limited series, movie or special prosthetic makeup; series music composition; hourlong series sound editing; hourlong series sound mixing; special visual effects; drama series, limited series or movie stunt coordination)
For editor Tim Porter, nominated for the series’ climactic battle episode, “The Long Night,” the challenge was the sheer volume of material. “I endeavored to keep the edit in sync with the shoot as I was in constant communication with director Miguel Sapochnik. The final act caused the most head scratching, and trying to find its rhythm against the action that had preceded it wasn’t immediately obvious to me. We’d been maintaining the action pace but weren’t feeling it. So we tried [as temp] a slow-build piano piece, ‘The Light of the Seven,’ by Ramin Djawadi, from Season 6. This was the key that unlocked the sequence, as it began to feel like the characters were fighting for their lives at the end of the world.” He worked closely with exec producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, “who are very hands-on after the director’s cut,” he says. “Miguel’s cut is faithful to what ended up on the screen.” —Iain Blair

The Handmaid’s Tale

(7 noms: Hourlong contemporary narrative production design; hourlong single-camera series cinematography (x2); fantasy/sci-fi costumes; single-camera drama series picture editing; series music composition; hourlong series sound mixing)
With its stark images of pure white bonnets and blood-red cloaks, the Hulu hit, based on the dystopian and prescient 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, has come to symbolize that rare moment in pop culture when difficult subject matter and massive artistic ambition cross over into massive ratings. Its vivid imagery has also come to symbolize the oppression of women, which couldn’t be more timely in the #MeToo era and amid increasing discussion of society’s treatment of women. Appropriately, the show is shot by a woman, Zoe White, one of three cinematographers on the current third season, who’s nominated for the “Holly” episode in Season 2. “It’s entirely centered on June, Elisabeth Moss’ character, trying to escape from this house and giving birth, and the big challenge was staying with just one character for an hour and keeping it interesting,” says White, who used suspense and “fun angles” to keep up the visual energy. —Iain Blair

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Amazon Prime Video

(10 noms: Hourlong narrative or fantasy production design; comedy series casting; hourlong single-camera cinematography; period costumes; single-camera comedy series picture editing (x2); single-camera series hairstyling; single-camera series nonprosthetic makeup; music supervision; hourlong comedy or drama series sound mixing)
In Season 2, the characters traveled from New York to Paris — both fashion capitals — but it was the summer resort getaway episode “We’re Going to the Catskills!” that got nominated. Designer Donna Zakowska immersed herself in the resort lifestyle of the late 1950s: What would urbanites don on summer vacation, in the days before leisure and sports wear? The answer came in closely researched documentaries and promotional films from the era. “I understood there was a unique visual poetry to those images that were generally meant to contrast with the urban world of ‘the City,’” she says. She shifted her palette into outfits that reflected complex patterns and colors, like flowers and checks, to “capture a sort of innocence and playfulness. … I loved the encounter with a spirit of escapism that was meant to seduce the urban world into a setting where family, theater and fantasy converged,” she says. —Iain Blair

Our Planet

(7 noms: Nonfiction cinematography (x3); documentary series or special music composition; original main title theme music; nonfiction sound editing; nonfiction sound mixing)
The ambitious eight-part series, narrated by David Attenborough, was a four-year project filmed in 50 countries across all continents, with a crew of more than 600 capturing better than 3,500 filming days and focusing on the breadth of the diversity of habitats around the world. “The visuals are amazing, and the big challenges for the sound team were to support the story and narrative, and make it big, cinematic and all-immersive without being too intrusive,” says re-recording mixer Graham Wild. “We also had a big score, and had to balance the sound against that, and it’s a tricky line to tread. There’s always the criticism that ‘there’s no orchestra in the wilds of Africa or the Arctic,’ but you need the music for the drama, emotion and suspense. Take it away, and even amazing visuals just seem a bit flat.” Wild mixed in Dolby Atmos at Films at 59 in Bristol, England. —Iain Blair

RuPaul’s Drag Race

(6 noms: Reality casting; reality cinematography; variety, nonfiction or reality costumes; structured reality or competition editing; multicamera series
or special hairstyling; multi-camera series or special nonprosthetic makeup)
There aren’t too many reality competition shows that would dive wig-first into a parody of Donald Trump, but nine-time Emmy winner “Drag Race” was up to the challenge. In staging “Trump: The Rusical,” contestants lip-synced to songs from “Grease” while dressed as the real-life women from Trump’s history, with “Drag Race” queen Ginger Minj outfitted as the huuuge commander-in-chief. “We were asked to create a comedic look on [Minj], which is quite different than the glamorous looks normally done for the show,” says makeup artist Jen Fregozo. The performers/contestants also faced the challenge of resembling real-life individuals. “A big part of the message behind this episode’s performance relies heavily on the satirical ‘Trump’ look, and it’s very rewarding to be part of that” says Fregozo. —Iain Blair

Russian Doll

(9 noms: Half-hour narrative production design; comedy series casting; single-camera half-hour cinematography; contemporary costumes; single-camera comedy editing; music supervision; half-hour series sound editing; half-hour series sound mixing; comedy or variety series stunt coordination)
Now that it has its own category, there are few better instances of what contemporary costumes can do than “Russian Doll.” Throughout the season, characters tended to wear the same clothes, which meant only small changes in Natasha Lyonne’s look. She begins in all black, eventually donning a Helmut Lang coat. As she grows more enlightened, she adds splashes of cream and white. But costume designer Jenn Rogien needed several solutions for the episode “Superiority Complex.” “New looks were a true novelty,” she says. Trying to find a party outfit for straitlaced Alan (Charlie Barnett) was tough. “Alan’s party look needed to look immediately different but still in character,” she says. “That black-and-yellow plaid shirt was a real winner.” ­—Randee Dawn

Saturday Night Live

(8 noms: Variety, reality or competition series production design; variety, nonfiction or reality program costumes; multicamera series or special hairstyling; variety series lighting design and direction; multicamera series or special nonprosthetic makeup; music direction; original music and lyrics; series technical direction, camerawork and video control)
Throwing together a live TV show means artisans often have to move heaven and Earth on short notice. “SNL” veteran of 29 years and technical director Steven Cimino says the Adam Sandler-hosted episode sketch “War Zone Reporter” had to look as if it were filmed on an iPhone — including having Snapchat. They got Snapchat to write a version for a desktop computer in less than a week. For the John Mulaney-hosted episode, lighting director Geoff Amoral had to produce black lights for the “Bodega Bathroom” sketch, a change that popped up at Friday rehearsal. Fortunately, people jump when “SNL” calls. “We had the black lights early morning of show day,” he recalls. —Randee Dawn

True Detective

(8 noms: Limited series or movie cinematography; limited series or movie single-camera editing; limited series or movie hairstyling; main title design; limited series or movie nonprosthetic makeup; limited series or movie music composition; limited series or movie sound editing; limited series or movie sound mixing)
Throughout Season 3, memory and time emerged as themes. From the start, scenes shifted through time as the story of Hays (Mahershala Ali) unspooled across decades, filtered through a struggle with Alzheimer’s. DP Germain McMickering had to telegraph the time shifts while conveying Hays’ muddied memories in “The Great War and Modern Memory.” “We tried to sit back from our heroes and have them feel a little more observed,” he says. McMickering’s lighting went for a softer, “more lyrical approach, more describing memory.” He also was inspired by the Arkansas landscape. “The thick, denuded forests and cool, desaturated palette became a character in itself for this episode,” he says, “one full of unease and potential threat.” —Randee Dawn

The Voice

(6 noms: Variety or reality competition production design; reality casting; multicamera hairstyling; variety series lighting design and direction; multicamera series or special nonprosthetic makeup; series technical direction, camerawork and video control)
Marrying a “cage-fight” concept with “intimate musical performance” made production designer Anton Goss’ job a challenge in the “Live Cross Battles, Part 1” episode.
But Goss went for broke, building a box of 14 37-foot-tall blades, each internally lit and lined with video-capable LED strips called sceptrons. Working with lighting designer Oscar Dominguez to ensure they could “tell as many stories and provide as many looks as possible,” Goss created a set that could provide wide, exciting shots and intimate Steadicam or close-up shots at the same time. “We are always going for vastness, depth and scale,” he says, “but this time with the cage and its very tall structure being close to camera, it became bigger and more impactful than our very vast and deep regular set.” —Randee Dawn

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